Celebrating the Arizona Trail: A Dream Forged from History, Friendship and a Passion for the Outdoors

Flagstaff Business News (September 2, 2020) by Bonnie Stevens

In the shade of a thriving alligator juniper tree in Buffalo Park on a sunny August day, Dr. John Hildebrand and historian Jim Babbitt sat on a polished rock bench dedicated to their friend, Dale Shewalter, founder of the Arizona Trail, and reminisced about the journey since the ‘70s when the trail was just a dream being pondered over mountain passages and dining room tables.

“Dale and I hiked around together and did some hiking on the [San Francisco] Peaks,” recalled Dr. Hildebrand, a longtime Flagstaff general surgeon, avid hiker and expert birder. “The one thing specifically that I remember doing in the late ‘70s was flagging the Kachina Trail across the south side of the Peaks. There was no trail then.”

Babbitt, who returned to his hometown of Flagstaff in the early ‘80s, quickly became friends with the hiking pals. “Long-distance hiking in those days wasn’t anywhere near as popular of a thing to do as it is now,” he explained. “I remember going to your house, John, and having all these rolled-up maps. Dale would get them out and unroll them and we’d look for hours at these topographic maps of various segments of the trail. You could just tell that Dale had this idea that was burning inside of him for making the trail. So, we got on board. It sounded like a fabulous idea to us!”

The vision was a trail for hikers, equestrians and bicyclists (outside wilderness areas) that would stretch from north to south, border to border from Utah to Mexico, across Arizona’s wild, rugged and scenic lands. The trio identified routes across National Forests and National Parks, but there was only one way to get from the San Francisco Peaks to the Grand Canyon, and that was through private land: Babbitt Ranches’ CO Bar Ranch.

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